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FGM in Wales ‘largely unreported’, say researchers

06 February 2014

Uncharted territory

Dozens of women and girls in Wales are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation, according to experts at Cardiff University.

Last year, one Welsh charity helped 16 women and girls at risk of FGM.

But University researchers believe the vast majority of cases go unreported due to the young age of those at risk, their family loyalties, and the reluctance of outsiders to intervene.

Today (6 February) marks the United Nations day of zero tolerance on female genital mutilation (FGM), a practise often performed on young girls, most commonly between ages 6 and 8, and seen as a prerequisite for marriage.

All forms of FGM increase the risk of infection and haemorrhage, and can cause lasting trauma and lead to heavy scarring. FGM can increase the risk of death in childbirth.

FORWARD-UK, a specialist charity campaigning against FGM, estimates that some 6,500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM each year, particularly those with origins in Africa.

Welsh charity BAWSO, which supports women from minority communities to escape violence, assisted 16 women and girls living in Wales at risk of FGM last year.

Dr Amanda Robinson of Cardiff University, who recently co-authored Uncharted Territory, a research report into gender-based violence, found that several women living in Wales had experienced FGM.

"Women told us that it was often performed by elder women, and that it could also happen as a precursor to marriage, at the insistence of the prospective husband and his family. But while it may be justified in cultural terms, it is a form of violence and a means of repressing female sexuality which causes lasting and irreversible physical and psychological damage. "No woman should go through that pain," is a telling comment from one of our interviewees."

Joanne Payton, PhD student at Cardiff University who co-authored Uncharted Territories and also works as a Research Officer for IKWRO, a charity working with Middle Eastern women across the UK, said that there is an assumption that FGM is confined to Africa. ‘It’s an issue for many of our clients as well,’ she said, ‘IKWRO has been called in to intervene in cases where girls in Wales were at risk of being taken back to their parent’s country in the Middle East to undergo clitidorectomies. FGM is also a practice found in Egypt, Yemen and Oman as well as in Indonesia and Malaysia. ’

FGM has been illegal in the UK for over twenty years, but there has never been a prosecution, a fact which some campaigners relate to misplaced cultural sensitivities.

Activist Leyla Hussein, of the anti-FGM group Daughters of Eve, was left shaken and horrified by the results of an experiment where she asked members of the public to sign a petition in support of FGM as a ‘cultural right’, where only one person she approached refused.

According to Hussein, this shows a deeply engrained reluctance to criticise violence against women which has been justified in the name of culture. Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now insists that FGM should never be considered as cultural, but rather as a form of child abuse, which must be confronted without fear of causing offence.

‘There can be no justification for these acts’, agrees Dr Amanda Robinson. ‘FGM needs to be included into our cross-policy responses on all forms of violence against women in Wales, a point which we made in the Task & Finish Group report to Welsh Government last year. The Welsh Government needs to ensure that FGM is not hidden in its forthcoming legislation to End Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence in Wales, sending a clear message that there is no tolerance for FGM in Wales.’

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